Faith Takes Practices to Develop

faith

I have fond memories of praying, “now I lay me down to sleep” each night before going to bed.  I can still see the colorful children’s bible stories my family would read at the dinner table each night.  I recall the rhythm and tone of Sunday worship services; standing to read scripture, reciting the Apostles Creed, sitting for the “long prayer” and knowing the end was near when the pastor raised his arms and pronounced the Aaronic blessing “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” Numbers 6:22-27.

            In the fourth grade my teacher challenged her class to read the bible every night in order to win a prize.  My sweet tooth was as strong as ever and I conquered that challenge easily.  In sixth grade I went with my youth group to provide meals for homeless children in downtown LA.  In eighth grade, while at a youth group retreat, I put my faith in Jesus for the first time.   Through out high school I played the drums for my church worship team and was actively involved in youth leadership.  But, It was not until my senior year of college, eight years later, that this faith that had been planted in my soul as a child, had taken root as a teen, and was watered with the prayers of my parents began to grow. 

Those eight years of high school and college were long, slow, and sometimes frustrating years.  I longed for a connection to Jesus that did not materialize.  I struggled with guilt, doubt, pride, anger, and depression.  I attempted and failed to continue the practices of prayer, bible reading, worship, and service that had begun in my youth.   I hoped they would establish the connection I believed was missing.

Faith sprouted on a mission trip to Nicaragua, on which I came to the end of myself and discovered that it was my striving and self-reliance that stood in the way of honest connection with Jesus.  On returning to school I found for the first time that I could read scripture and actually understand the WORD.  The end of my college experience was the beginning of a faith journey that has progressed through starts and stops over the course of my adult life. 

Over the last several years I have been convicted of my responsibility to pass this faith on to my children.  I am overwhelmed by the enormity of the task.  How can I, a father that is passionate but struggling pass on something that is so fragile and broken?  At times I want to throw in the towel and succumb to the pressures of money, time, apathy, and culture. 

I was reminded today of the role I play in my children’s faith development.  I am called to plant seeds that the Holy Spirit cultivates into faith.  I am reading, Shaped By God: Twelve Essentials for Nurturing Faith in Children, Youth, and Adults” Edited by Robert J. Keeley.  Don C. Richter writes “Faith begins in practice, in words and songs and gestures and things we do with and for our bodies, with and for one another.  We learn to pray by praying.  We learn to serve by serving.  We learn to care by concrete acts of caring.” (Keely,pg 24) I was brought back to my childhood prayers and bible stories.  I was reminded of the practices that have shaped my faith over the years.  In the beginning they were clumsy, with out heart, and in the case of the bible reading contest motivated by greed.  These practices however having been awakened by the Spirit my senior year of college have been the soil in which my faith has grown.  They have become the “means of grace to nourish and sustain the life of faith” in me. (Keely, pg 30)

 I cannot awaken my children in faith, that is the Holy Spirits role but I can provide for them the raw materials of faith.  I can provide experiences of prayer, worship, bible reading, and service.  My hope is that these experiences will shape and inform their understanding of Jesus.  I trust that they will come to know him as provider, savior, master, and king the one in whom true connection can be found.

WHAT PRACTICES HAVE SHAPED YOUR FAITH OVER THE YEARS?

HOW ARE YOU PASSING YOUR FAITH TO YOUR CHILDREN?

How to parent boys with high energy

how to parent boys with high energy

“Do you feed your kids crack?”  The Sunday school teacher asked.  “Oh… no, they are pretty energetic though aren’t they” I laughed.  I entered the room to gather my three boys while one of them was sliding head first down the plastic slide, the second was leaning off the edge of the fort as though it was a ship at sea, and the third was chasing a girl around the room.  I quickly gathered my clan rushed them off to the car and buckled them in their seats.  My main thought on that day was, “my boys require a lot of structure.”  We headed home and I chalked it up to another day in the life of a high-energy family.

A few weeks later I started to think about the question that this teacher posed to me.  Like many things the more I thought about it the more frustrated I became.  Don’t get me wrong I am the first to admit that my boys are active.  They love to run, jump, wrestle, and get dirty.  I am also the first to state however that I have great children and this is where the frustration came in.  I started to wonder what this teacher thinks of my boys.  My guess based on her question is that she views them as out-of-control, untamed, crazy, or scary.

I know that ultimately it does not matter what this person thinks about my children.  I believe strongly however, that the way we experience children is the way they experience themselves.  So, if this teacher experiences my children as crazy, out-of-control, or scary then that may be the way that they feel in her presence.  I begin to wonder if she is overwhelmed by their energy.  I sense that maybe she does not know how to contain them or is unsure of how to discipline them.  If I were honest with myself I would admit that at times I feel these things.  I feel overwhelmed, out-of-control, and scared of someone getting hurt.

Unfortunately when I feel these ways I tend to rely on my more primal parenting skills.  Sometimes this includes yelling, sometimes annoyed tones of voice, other times checking out.  Of course these skills do not work very well and actually communicate even more firmly to my children that I cannot handle them.  I wonder what it feels like to my children when I am out of control?  How do they feel when I am yelling, using my annoyed voice, or checked out?

At times I can see the answers on my sons face.  The feeling seems to be either hurt or humiliation, whatever it is I know it when I see it.  In my best moments I slow down, apologize, and acknowledge my mistake.  In my worse moments I move on without giving it a second thought feeling justified in my frustration.

My sons truly do require a lot of structure.  I find that things go better when I provide simple activities to help provide this structure.  It might be playdoh, drawing, coloring, a task, or a walk.  No matter what it is when I take action and help to structure the time they respond well.  The best part is that in most cases when I start the activity and engage with them for a short time I can leave the activity and they will remain engaged beyond the time of my involvement.  The hard part is staying calm, remembering that they need the structure and providing it before I become overwhelmed and out of control.

One thing that I have learned to do when things get tense at my house is to ask myself, “What do they need from me right now?”  Many times the answer is structure and when I provide it things seem to calm down, and so do I.

What activities do you use to provide structure for your children?

Why Would A Good Guy Go to Hell?

My sons ask some really tough questions. They are so inquisitive, and curious about how the world works and why people do what they do.  Many times the questions they ask let me know that there is much more going on in their head than I realize.

The oldest has been working on a school assignment to memorize the Apostles Creed.  At breakfast one morning my wife was quizzing him on the phrase, “He descended into hell; and on third day he rose again from the dead.” After a few moments of thoughtful silence he dropped the bomb on us.

“Dad, Why would a good guy go to Hell?”

I could see the connections being made in his brain.   He was thinking, “Mom and dad have been telling me all along that this Jesus guy is good, they say He is perfect, He is God, He loves me, and that I can trust Him.”  “I also know that hell is a bad place.  I know that there is fire; pain, hurt, and that I do not want to go there.”

So his little brain reasoned quite logically, why would this good guy go to such a horrible place?

 Isn’t this the question on which the whole world hangs? Why did Jesus die on the cross descend into hell and come back to life?

I attempted in my feeble way to share surprise and wonder with my son.  Isn’t it amazing that Jesus went to hell on our behalf?  Imagine how horrible it would be if you and I had to go to hell for all the bad stuff we do?  Or, what if the only way for us to be right with God was to live a perfect life?  How good does a person have to be to be ‘ok’ in God’s eyes?

This question from my son revealed to me anew the wonder of salvation.  I AM NOT GOOD, NO ONE IS GOOD apart from the sacrifice of Christ and it is only through his life, death, and resurrection that I have hope for the future.  This good guy went to hell so that I don’t have to.

Thank you Lord, for teaching me through the thoughts of a young boy.  Thank you for working in my child’s heart and planting the wondrous seed of faith.  Grow in him this seed of faith allowing it to blossom through trust in the powerful work of Jesus Christ.

Do As I Say Not As I Do?

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children, and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us. Ephesians 5:1

I learned another important lesson of parenthood the other day, and like many other lessons this one was the direct result of something involving my child.  My family and I have had the wonderful blessing of spending this Christmas with my wife’s family.  Her brother is here, her sister’s family, parents, and of course, the associated kids.

One of the great things about visiting with family is watching the children play together.  They spend the days outside playing with bicycles, searching for treasures, and building friendships.  Two days ago however we ran into a little snag.

My wife and I had left the house to run an errand with two of our children.  We got a call from my mother in law that something had been broken at the house.  It appeared that one of the two boys we had with us was the culprit.  Driving home we decided that the “suspect” would have a private talk with grandma before he moved on to any play activities.   We knew that she was not upset but that she wanted to reinforce the lesson of confessing and apologizing if you have damaged a piece of someone else’s property.

As we pulled into the driveway I parked my father in laws truck next to my brother in laws relatively new car.  Since it was the holidays and we had two kids with us it was a bit of a struggle to get out of the car.  I opened the door and began unloading the boys and the packages.  As the “suspect” jumped out I leaned to my left and bumped the truck door pushing it further open into the passenger door of my brother in laws car.  I put down my belongings, pulled the door partially closed, and surveyed the damage.  I had left a dull silver/grey scratch the size of a quarter on the dark black paint.

My first thought was, “Oh Sh*t”. My second thought was, “he may never notice, maybe I could wipe it off.”   My third thought jumped right to my poor son marching his way to a private discussion with grandma about the stone cross he had broken.  To be a father with any integrity and character, to be the father that I claim to be, I must tell my brother in law what had happened.

I went inside and watched as my son sheepishly spoke with his grandmother telling the story of how the stone cross came to be broken.  As expected, she was not upset with him.  She only asked that next time he tell her when something at her house was broken.

Moments later my brother in law walked in the house and I sheepishly told him about his car.  I apologized as he walked outside to check on the damage done.  As expected, he was not upset with me and only thanked me for telling him that it had happened.

I wonder who learned the bigger lesson?  My son won’t remember this experience and I am pretty sure “not me” will be blamed again in the future.  I think this lesson was a Christmas gift for dad.  I learned that the way I live my life speaks much louder than the words I say.   This was a simple reminder that in order to raise children with integrity, honor, and love for Christ, I must first possess that which I hope to pass on.

I pray that my boys see more of Christ in me than they do of me.  I know that it is only through His grace that any child of mine will become a child of His.

 How do you experience God’s grace in parenting?

What Do You Think About That?

A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son grief to his mother. Proverbs 10:1

There are parents all across the U.S. struggling with the foolish decisions of their children.  I myself have often wondered about my own son, “why did you do that?”  I really wish that children came out of the womb with all the tools they needed to make wise decisions.   Unfortunately children are born ill equipped for the thousands of decisions they will make in there life time.  How then do we as parents train our children to make wise decisions?

I believe that we train children to make wise decisions by asking the question, what do you think about that?  When children become teenagers they are suddenly required to make many decisions.  If when they get to this stage they have never thought through the consequences of a decision or solved a problem on their own, they are in for a lesson.

I like to start out small and young.  Asking children at a young age what their favorite color is, food, movie, game, friend etc…  All of these questions require a child to think about their wants, desires, and at some level what is valuable to them.  These are not the ultimate values of life but they are the beginnings of determining the ultimate values.  One of the most important things to focus on as a parent during these conversations is truly seeking to understand your child’s inner life.  The more you are engaged with understanding your child’s thoughts, opinions, and values, the stronger they will hear the message, “what you think is important to me.”  If you value their opinion then they will see value in it as well.

As a child increases in age and practice it is wise for parents to begin asking their opinion in more significant ways.  What sport would you like to play? What assignment would you like to do first?  What do you think about this bible verse?  What is important to you in this?  The more opportunity they have to express their opinions about a wide variety of topics the more confident they will be in their opinions.  The more confidence they have in their own opinions the more likely they are to make decisions based on their values rather than those of their peers.

It is not possible to guarantee that our children will always make the right decision.  It is possible however to provide tons of practice and rehearsal for the moments when their values are really tested.  When the pressure is on they will rely on what is most comfortable and familiar to them.  Parents can influence what is most comfortable and familiar by engaging in thoughtful and challenging conversations.

More articles available at www.parentingboysraisingmen.com

Eyes of Compassion

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3

I have been privileged to meet a wide variety of people in my time as a therapist.  I have known children that were neglected and abused.  I have met teenagers that struggled with addiction, sexuality, and anger.  I have cried with the mother whose parental rights have been terminated.  At times the stories of these individuals are overwhelming and disheartening.  At other times their stories reveal to me in a very powerful way the exceptional grace of God.

I have learned that when people experience extreme pain, hurt, and rejection they begin to see themselves and the world differently.  These children, teens, and parents that have been through so much, begin to believe that they are “bad”.  They somehow view themselves as the sum of all their choices, and each mistake made adds to the conviction that they are worthless.

I often wonder how God views these children of His?  Does he keep a list of all the mistakes and shake his finger in disgust with each one added to the page?  Maybe he gets really frustrated with them and lashes out in anger?  Is it possible that he really doesn’t care what happens to them?

I think that God looks upon those who are hurting, broken, and wounded with great compassion.  I believe that he sees the prostitute, drug addict, child abuser, and rebellious teen with love rather than disgust.  I imagine God looking upon the brokenhearted and saying, “my child, come to Me, I will make it better.” I imagine tears rolling down his cheeks, as he knows the emptiness of drug abuse.  I can see sadness in His eyes as He feels depression and self-hatred.   He must experience terror when he sees through the eyes of the abused child.  John the baptizer says, “Look the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! “ John 1:29

I am thankful that, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds”.  If only we could see those who are hurting with the compassionate and loving eyes of our father

How can we begin to see with the eyes of God?  How would seeing with the eyes of God change the way we respond to Sin?

Moments of Stillness

I was all about being still.  I could relax with the best of them.  As a teenager there was an indentation of my body permanently pressed into our couch.  When my wife and I first got married, I joked about how going on vacation with her family was like boot camp, because of the active interests they pursued.  As I reflect on the passage, “Be still and know that I am God” I get a profound sense that “chilling out” and relaxing by the pool is not exactly what God had in mind.

  I have found that although stilling my body is not hard for me, stilling my mind is quite difficult.  I would characterize myself as an over-analyzer.  My body can be still, while my mind is racing a mile a minute.  I have early memories of long sleepless nights analyzing the minutest details of interactions between teachers, friends, and family.  I analyze the slightest pitch change in my wife’s voice.  I attempt to decipher the meaning of and future repercussions of my children’s smallest behaviors.  In short, there are moments when I can drive myself crazy with the thoughts that move through my mind.

Several years ago, I was blessed to attend summer camp with a group of high school students.  The speaker that week focused on several spiritual practices for deepening relationship with Christ.  The one practice that stuck with me was the Jesus prayer.  The prayer comes out of the Eastern Orthodox tradition and involves repeating the phrase “Lord, Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”  Scripturally the prayer has its roots in Luke 18:13 “but the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  I was taught to inhale on, “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God” and to exhale on, “have mercy on me a sinner.”

For a person who requires more work on stillness of mind than body this prayer has been a great help.  When I find myself ruminating over the days activities unable to sleep, I will repeat this prayer as a way to slow my mind and focus on Christ.  When I am overwhelmed by my work as a therapist, this prayer helps me to remember my purpose and be reminded that Jesus is the true healer of souls.

I love this prayer because through it I experience moments of stillness.  I am reminded again and again, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and I am a sinner.  I inhale the name of Jesus, and exhale the character of man.  Now that is a breath of fresh air!

Parenting in Community

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…” Hebrews 12:1

I recently read an article by Ross Taffell entitled “The Decline and Fall of Parental Authority”.  This article was nothing I expected it to be.  I expected the author to argue from national statistics and personal anecdotes that today’s parents were not strong enough.  I anticipated that he would describe teenagers run amok, parents providing alcohol at parties, and 7 year olds with I-phones.

I was surprised when, instead of heaping guilt on parents who were working very hard to raise their kids, he offered an old solution to the new problem of the decline of parental authority.  The author notes that arguably the most damaging thing to parental authority today is the fragmentation of society.  Taffel believes that a parent’s authority is attacked from every corner of the world.  Children are bombarded with alternative voices of authority from the online world, television, school, friends, and advertising.   Each system sells its values as the most important part of leading a “successful” life.  Friends say it is being “cool”, TV says it is having the right stuff, school says it is getting all A’s, and the Internet says it is having all the right information.  Each of these systems preys on a parent’s fear that their child will not “measure up”.

The solution offered by Taffell is to raise children in community rather than isolation.  The technology that fills our lives and was intended to connect us seems to actually separate us.  Families are so busy with activities that little time is left to socialize with neighbors and connect to one another.  Taffel says, “what most overwhelmed parents of out-of-control kids need… is a strong, vibrant community that includes other parents, parents need help and encouragement in authority building.”  I am reminded of Hebrews 12:1a “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.”  I imagine a group of parent’s who “by faith” raise up their children to honor and serve the Lord.  I pray for a community of parents standing a long the edges helping to steer and direct the development of my family.

When I was growing up my parents personally knew each of my friend’s parents.  If I did something stupid they would hear about it.  The other parents helped to support and enforce the values created in my home.  Taffel challenges parents to build communities of authority in which to raise their children.  He encourages us to build partnerships with schools, to support other parents, and to be active in our neighborhoods.  I am inspired by his suggestions yet overwhelmed by the task.  To build community requires risk and sacrifice.  It requires slowing down and intentionally connecting with others.  I am hopeful that as my children grow, I will also grow in my ability to assemble a “great cloud of witnesses” to cheer them on as they run the race marked out for them.

"The Talk" — In Kindergarten?

I was surprised this week by how quickly the influence I have in my child’s life is challenged by outside forces.  My wife and I have worked pretty hard to shelter our boys from things that we believe are inappropriate for their age.  We do our best to limit them to G rate movies, they typically watch only pre-viewed dvds or Netflix shows, and we quickly turn the channel if an “inappropriate commercial” appears on TV.  I have even gone so far as to tear the “batwoman” pages out of a coloring book because of its voluptuous nature.

Like most parents we noticed right from the first day of kindergarten that our bubble of protection had been shattered.  Our son came home talking of video games, and super heroes that we had never exposed him to.  All of a sudden he knows who Darth Vader is and is telling me the plot line to the Star Wars movies.  He starts to do things like “made you look” and “eenie meenie miny moe.”  He tells me that Benji Molina is his favorite Cardinals player.  All of these previously unknown tidbits were a bit of a shock to our naïve belief that we could filter all possible influences.  These tidbits were perfectly tame however, in comparison to what he came home talking about this week.

My wife received a call from a classmate’s mother describing what her son had heard at school.  Apparently another boy had said something about “sexy kissing” and told my son and his friend that this occurs when you take all your clothes off and touch your “P-Ps” together.  Mom calls teacher, teacher tells principal, boys are called to the office, the culprit apologizes, and my son receives his first lesson about the birds and the bees.  Ugh! We felt sick.  I know many would consider this incident minor; but again our belief system had been shaken.  The beliefs that we could protect our son, that school is a safe place, that the kids in his class are OK, and that we can wait to give “the talk” for several more years are false.

As the dust settled, I was processing through this incident with a fellow therapist, father to four boys, and Christian leader.  He was telling me about how he spoke to his boys regarding sex and at what ages he had “the talk” with them.  He told me how he had not yet talked with his 7 year old.  He stated that he had probably waited too long and has been meaning to sit down with him.  What? My son is 6; are you telling me that I need to have “the talk” with him now?  As I continue to think through this incident I am more convinced that the sooner I talk with my son the better.  I have realized that the negative influences that I am protecting against will fill any vacuum that I have left open.  If I, as a Christian father, am silent regarding this very important topic, the not so silent fathers and older brothers of my sons classmates, will influence him with out my knowing.  I am convinced, that no matter what the topic, I must make my influence and voice more powerful than the voices of the world.   At this point in his young life he listens to me and believes that I know everything.  In a few short years I will know nothing and have less ability to present a powerful voice of influence.

So, I am struck by the importance of teaching the lessons of values, morals, and decision making today rather than tomorrow.  I am convicted that if I desire to raise men of character then I must start today.  I must read the bible with them, I must pray with them, I must have the hard conversations, I must teach them to make choices, I must teach them to stand up to wrongs and champion rights.  I am convicted that I must be a man of character myself and allow my life to speak powerfully into the hearts of my boys.  Oh what a challenging task!!